A reality check on positive thinking

That skycap just left me at the gate without telling anyone I needed assistance getting onto the plane. Annoyed, I limped down the ramp, cane in one hand, backpack strapped over my shoulders, and the telescoping handle of my rolling suitcase in the other. Off balance and getting more irritable with each step, I inched my way onto the plane. It was a full flight. “There go my chances of getting a more accessible seat,” I whined inside my head. Even the flight attendant gave me grief when I asked for help stowing my suitcase in the overhead bin. I sat on the edge of my assigned aisle seat, hoping I wouldn’t get stuck there. With my cane stashed overhead, I was feeling helpless. Grumpy and frustrated, I longed for the louder, bumpier, but less crowded plane I had been on just two days ago. My last option was a faint hope that the other passengers would take pity on me and agree to trade places. I got lucky. Both were either too tired or stressed out to care.

I settled in to the window seat as best I could while trying not to disturb the cramped passengers around me. As the plane took off, I chuckled under my breath at the irony of it all. The AHMA Conference had just ended. I was covered in purple, complete with my “Ask me about AHMA” pin. I’m supposed be an example by having a positive outlook, especially about disability. Yet I just caught myself thinking negatively about difficult, but manageable circumstances.

In truth, I was being a fatalistic drama queen about the whole affair.

So what was up with that? I can think of many reasons, each one corresponding to one of several health problems I was having at the time. None of the reasons had anything to do with airport or airline personnel.

We all get that way sometimes.

Our pain and disability becomes more than we can handle. We start having negative, even irrational, thoughts. We might start believing what we think, withdraw, feel depressed, and begin to self-sabotage.

Please tell me this isn’t going to be one of those “positive thinking” pep talks.

I assure you, it is not. People who tell migraineurs to “just think positive” annoy me too. Most of the time, they have no idea what positive thinking really is. Their idea of “positive thinking” is what most psychologists and counselors call “magical thinking.” It has no basis in reality and will only set you up for disappointment. It certainly won’t cure migraine.

Would you like to play a game?

The next time you start thinking negatively, try a mental exercise called “Examine the Evidence.” Without letting your feelings have a vote, evaluate all the facts. See which ones support your thoughts and which ones don’t. Next, determine if your thoughts have merit based on the evidence.

Let’s pick on me for this exercise.

I’m an easy target and I’ve already done the exercise at home. Plus, by the time you read this, my airport drama will be a distant memory.

Thought:  
“That skycap just left me at the gate without telling anyone I needed assistance…”

Facts:
He did not leave the gate for 20 minutes.
He sat nearby.
He was talking on a cell phone.
He did not tell the gate attendant that I needed assistance.

Conclusion:   
I assumed that he would inform the attendant of my needs based on previous experience at a different airport on a different day under different circumstances. Considering it’s been over 14 years since I traveled by air and have never flown with a disability, I should not have made any assumptions. The better choice would have been to verify every accommodation at both airports from arrival to boarding.

Now it’s your turn.

Choose one of my thoughts from the opening paragraph. Imagine a scenario of facts and draw a conclusion. Once you feel comfortable with the process, try it on one of your negative thoughts. See if your conclusion is any different from the assumptions that created your initial thought. Many times, it will be different.

We don’t need positive thinking.

We just need a reality check.

The mistake that nearly everyone makes is giving more weight to assumptions than to the facts. Even a few moments later, our perspective can change when all the evidence is considered.

Sometimes reality supports our thoughts about life with migraine and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s when we need to adjust our thinking. We can have problems when we get stuck in thinking patterns that don’t match all the facts. Those thinking patterns can be difficult to break, especially if the facts are new to us.

In this next series, I’ll be introducing you to some common thinking patterns about migraine that don’t always match the facts. This series may challenge you to think differently. If you have been thinking a certain way for a long time, it can take time to change those patterns. You might decide not to change at all. That’s okay. This is a journey into new ideas, not a destination.

Let’s enjoy this journey together!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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